Monthly Archives: June 2016

The United States and the Battle for an Official Language

The United States and the Battle for an Official Language

Does the United States have an official language? In short, no, but in reality it is a much more complicated issue that can be difficult to understand. The original constitution of the United States did not enshrine any particular language as the official language, and there continues to be no federal legislation declaring any one language as the “official” language of the United States. Despite this, all legislation, regulations, treaties, ballots, and other federal communications are produced in the English language. Despite this, many states also produce official documents and communications in other languages, such as Spanish, German, Chinese, Korean, and other indigenous languages. This is even true when that state has passed a local law declaring English to be their only official language, because government officials understand the importance of using translation services to communicate with all of their constituents. In this article, we will discuss the question of an official language in the United States today and outline the following topics:

  • De facto official languages
  • Which states have declared an official language
  • Could Spanish be an official language
  • The “English Only Movement” to declare English as the sole official language

De Facto Official Languages

English is the de facto official language of the United States at a federal level, as well as at state levels. This means that all legislation, ballots, regulations and other government communications are produced in English. Some states also produce materials in other languages in addition to English for government communications. These states include Louisiana, which uses both English and French; Pennsylvania, which uses both English and German; New Mexico, which uses English and Spanish; and California, which has many Spanish language speakers in particular, and produces materials in at least nine languages.

States with Official Languages

31 of 50 states have adopted legislation declaring official languages; all 31 of those states recognize English as their official language, but some also recognize other languages. Hawaii has adopted both English and Hawaiian as their official languages while Alaska recognizes numerous indigenous languages as official alongside English. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico recognizes both English and Spanish as official languages, but most Puerto Ricans only speak Spanish.

In some states that have declared English as an official language, there is no further regulation for using English in official capacities. In these states, such as Illinois and Missouri, the designation is largely ceremonial and does not impose any limitations on translating communications and texts. In fact, in these states ballots and other official documents are often produced in many languages. In other states, such as Tennessee, the state requires that all communication produced by the government be only in English. In some states, the legislation is even stricter; for example, the constitution of California states that the government “take all steps necessary to insure that the role of English as the common language … is preserved and enhanced,” but this legislation does not seem to be particularly enforced.

 Could Spanish be an official language?

It is ironic that California, a state with a Spanish language name and where the Spanish language is so widespread, going as far back as the first settlements in the 17th and 18th century, would have a law preserving the English language. In fact, until 1870 the constitution of California recognized both the English language and the Spanish language as official.

California is not the only jurisdiction in the United States to declare Spanish as an official language. As previously mentioned, it is also one of the official languages of The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The majority of the population of Puerto Rico are Spanish language speakers, and as such, it is important that they conduct government business in that language. As the number of Spanish language speakers in the United States increases, it will become even more important for governments to provide services and documentation in the Spanish language, however not all Americans support that.

English as an Official Language Movement

In recent years, many Americans and lawmakers have pushed to create legislation declaring English as the official language of the United States, perhaps as a reaction to the increasing importance of the Spanish language across the country. The modern day “English-Only Movement” originated in the early 1980s when Virginia declared English as its official language. Around this time, a group called “U.S. English” started to lobby for English to be the official language of all states and the country as a whole at the federal level. In 1996, after extensive lobbying by the English-Only Movement, a bill proposing to make English the official language passed in the House of Representatives, but the Senate never signed it into law, leaving the country still without an official language.

More recently, in Nashville in 2009, voters rejected a law that would have prohibited the government from using languages other than English. While in 2012, ex-Senator Rick Santorum publicly stated that he believed Puerto Rico, a predominantly Spanish speaking territory, should adopt English as its primary language if it wants to gain statehood. Santorum was widely criticized for ignoring the importance of the Spanish language in the lives of Puerto Ricans. Today, five states are considering establishing English as their one and only official language, these states are Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

There is widespread support for English as an official language, according to a 2010 poll, 87% of Americans support making English an official language. However, many people are critical of the movement. Critics argue that it is not a unifying endeavor, and it promotes xenophobia. The ACLU believes that efforts to make English the only official language, and to limit the availability of government communication in other languages is a violation of the first amendment rights of free speech and the ability to communicate with the government.

 English is the most common language spoken in the United States, so governments consistently produce communications, legislation and regulations in English. However, today there are more than 35 million native Spanish language speakers in the United States, with millions more speaking Spanish as a second language or currently studying the Spanish language. State and federal governments are aware of the importance of this demographic so they translate all of their official documents, ballots and other communications into the Spanish language. Governments understand the importance of using translation and copy-editing services such as Spanish with Style to ensure that the quality of the translated text they are distributing to their constituents is impeccable.

Spanish Language: An Integral part of the History of the United States

Spanish Language An Integral part of the History of the United States

The Spanish language is becoming increasingly important in the United States every year, with more Spanish speakers coming into the country both as tourists and as new residents. Since 1990 the number of native Spanish language speakers in the United States has increased from 11 million to 41 million. This demographic is more important than ever both culturally and economically, and cannot be ignored by businesses. But did you know that even though the English language is the official language in the United States, that the Spanish language actually predates English? This article will discuss the history of the Spanish language in the United States from the first European explorers through the official creation of the United States.

Colonial Use of the Spanish Language

After Christopher Columbus’ expedition under the purview of the Spanish Throne, Spain continued to expand their territories in the so-called “New World”. Spain saw the great potential that existed in the Americas and set out to exploit it as best they could. They sent their ships throughout the area and made sure to explore and conquer as much of the land as they could.

The first European explorer to touch ground on the continental United States was the Spaniard Juan Ponce de León in 1513. He landed on the southern part of the United States and named it La Florida, meaning “the land of flowers”, the name that the state still retains today. He continued to explore the southern Floridian coast as well as the Florida Keys. Ponce de León was the first in a long line of Spanish explorers on the continent. Over the next few decades, Spanish explorers would travel throughout the continental United States including to the Grand Canyon, Mississippi River, and the Gulf of California.

Two other important early explorers from Spain were Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. In 1540 they both began exploring different regions in the continental United States. Hernando de Soto explored the southeastern United States from Tampa Bay to to South Carolina crossing the Mississippi River. He explored modern day Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. At the same time, Vásquez de Coronado traveled across the Mexican-Arizona border and all the way to Kansas. About 50 years later, in 1592, Juan de Fuca explored the western coast of the United States. He sailed up the west coast of Mexico to Vancouver Island looking for a passage from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.

Spanish Language Settlements

Spanish explorers founded some of the first settlements and colonies in the United States. As early as 1527 the Spanish had already created the first settlement in the United States, San Miguel de Guadalupe in Georgia. That settlement only lasted 3 months, but within 40 years the explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés had also founded St. Augustine, Florida. This settlement is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States and even predates even the Plymouth Colony at Plymouth Rock by more than 50 years (settled in 1620). The Spanish even held a Thanksgiving feast in St Augustine, 56 years before the English speaking pilgrims.

More settlements were created in the years that followed as farmers and craftsmen journeyed across the ocean, and explorers brought their families over. They established a settlement at modern day Parris Island, South Carolina called Santa Elena to protect the treasure they were taking from their newly explored landed and sending back to Europe. Spanish settlers also landed in the town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is now the oldest state capital in the United States. At the time, in 1610, Santa Fe was inhabited by indigenous peoples who had been living in the area for about 500 years. Santa Fe was under continuous Spanish control except from 1680 – 1692 when it was conquered by the indigenous Pueblo people. After the Spanish regained control, it remained so until the Mexican War of Independence.

Colonization of the Western United States by the Spanish was slower. The first settlements were missions established in California after 1697, first in Baja California then expanding throughout the region. By the 1800s there were many Spanish missions in California, predominantly along El Camino Real, “The Royal Road”, that allowed easy passage between each mission and still exists today. The purpose of these missions was to spread Christianity to indigenous peoples, and with that they also spread Spanish language and culture. Many indigenous people in California also learned to speak Spanish while working on Spanish ranches.

 Territories Change Hands and Gain Independence

Many territories passed hands between Spain and Great Britain because of wars or trading of land. Spain traded control of Florida to Great Britain in exchange for Havana, Cuba, in 1763. But Florida only remained under Great Britain’s command until 1783 when the American Revolutionary War ended. The American Revolutionary War was fought by mostly English speaking settlers in the British owned colonies, but they had foreign support from Spain, who provided them with weapons and other supplies. After the war ended Florida was returned to Spain. It was only in 1821 that Florida became an American state through the Adams-Onis Treaty.

Throughout the time of colonization, Spain had a large influence on much of the Americas. The Spanish conquered much of the Caribbean and West Indies, including what is now Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica, along with parts of Central and South America. The most significant area of conquer for the Spanish was arguably Mexico, where they conquered the powerful Aztec Empire. After the conquest the Spanish took control over the area and made many settlements.

Through these settlements the Spanish language became pervasive in the region.

Mexico eventually gained independence from Spain in 1821, but at this time Mexican territory expanded across many areas that are now part of the United States. Texas, was one of the states originally a part of Mexico and was full of native Spanish language speakers.

After the Mexican War of Independence, many American English language speakers immigrated to Texas. By 1836 so many Americans were living in Texas that they demanded independence from Mexico and fought their own war of independence. Texas remained an independent state from 1836 until it was finally integrated into the United States in 1846.

Territories in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Utah were also a part of Mexico after the Mexican War of Independence until the Mexican – American War in 1846. America won much of the Northern part of Mexico’s territory in the war, and in doing so incorporated many Spanish language speakers into the United States. These Spanish language speakers were now Americans and continued to speak their native language despite their country’s border changing.

Spanish Language in America Today

The United States is uniquely situated in the world with such a rich cultural history of both Spanish language speakers and English language speakers. However, the influence of the Spanish language on American culture is not only historical, it is also the future of the nation as more Spanish language speakers immigrate every year.

This is why it is increasingly important for businesses in the United States and businesses with customers in the United States, to provide accurate materials in both English and Spanish to remain relevant and communicate effectively with all potential customers. This is why it is so important that companies use Spanish language translation and copy-editing services such as Spanish with Style to guarantee they have the highest quality translated text.

Blending Cultures: Spanish Words English Speakers Use Everyday

Blending Cultures Spanish Words English Speakers Use Everyday

It is common to hear Spanish language words like bodega, fiesta or burritos daily across the United states. With 45 million Spanish language speakers, the Spanish language is influencing the everyday language of Americans. With many immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, words for Mexican and other Latin foods are pervasive.  Culturally significant words like quinceañera have also been adopted by Americans. Many other words with Spanish origins, such as chocolate, used in the United States today were passed down from the Spanish colonists to the Americas.

Food with a Spanish Language Influence

Mexican food is very popular in the United States, and with it we have adopted many Spanish language words. For example, salsa simply means sauce in the Spanish language but is not used to refer to a specific type of (often spicy) tomato based sauce commonly used on tacos or eaten with nacho chips. Taco is the Spanish language name for one of the most common and beloved foods in America, which of course originated in Mexico. Another popular food with a Mexican influence and Spanish name are burritos, which have similar flavors and ingredients as tacos, but actually originated in the United States and not Mexico. Burrito comes from the Spanish language word, burro, meaning a small donkey. Cilantro, a common ingredient in Mexican food, is actually the Spanish language word for the herb that is known in other English speaking countries as coriander. The piña colada, a popular cocktail, made with pineapple and coconut milk is Spanish for strained pineapple.

Cultural Influences

Many common words that are used daily have a Spanish language origin. For example, the word bodega comes from the Spanish language word meaning a cellar or place where wine is stored, but in the United States it means a corner store. Macho, a Spanish word denoting masculinity, has become a popular way to describe tough or very masculine men in the United States. Siesta, meaning the afternoon nap commonly taken at midday in Spain, can also be commonly heard when people discuss taking an afternoon break. The similarly sounding fiesta, from the Spanish word for party, has been adapted by many English language speakers. Another common word for a party is quinceañera, a Spanish language compound of quince and años, translates directly to fifteen years. The popular quinceañera parties (or fiestas) celebrate the coming of age of Mexican girls on their fifteenth birthday, similar to the “sweet 16” parties popular in English speaking United States.

Colonial influence

Many of the Spanish language words that you will hear regularly in the United States were words that Spanish colonists borrowed from indigenous languages. Barbecue, from barbacoa, was taken from the Taino language by Spanish explorers to the Bahamas. Potatoes, which are native to South America, comes from the Spanish patate but was originally batata in Taino. Chocolate was developed from the Nahuatl word xocolatl and was subsequently adapted into English.

Importance of Spanish in Everyday American Life

Spanish words have been adapted by the English language for centuries and are becoming increasingly prevalent as an increasing amount of the population of the United States are now Spanish language speakers. As such, the Spanish language is increasingly more important to daily life in the United States and it is important to use Spanish words appropriately with an understanding of their historical, cultural and social implications. As businesses and individuals are using more Spanish daily and seeking translation and copy editing services, the Spanish language experts and copy writing professionals at Spanish with Style will guarantee that your text is translated into perfect Spanish with an understanding of all the nuances of the language.

Spanish Names, American Cities

Spanish Names, American Cities

If you drive through California you will quickly notice places with Spanish sounding names such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Sacramento and many many more. A first-time visitor would be forgiven for thinking California is an officially Spanish speaking state. However, such as in many areas throughout the United States, California has numerous places with Spanish language names, but that are actually not primarily inhabited by Spanish speakers.

California’s official name, California, even has a Spanish origin, and it was named after a fictional island in a 16th century Spanish novel. California is one of five states with Spanish language translations. The other five states are, Montana; Nevada, meaning “snow-covered”, for the Sierra Nevada (which translates to snow-covered Mountains in English); Arizona and Colorado, meaning “reddish”, named for the appearance of the Colorado River. Additionally, the Spanish speaking territory of Puerto Rico comes from the Spanish language translation of “rich port”.

Many cities, towns, counties, and neighborhoods also have Spanish names. El Paso, Texas, translates to “the passage”. It is named such because the city lies in a passage between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra de Juarez. Fresno, California, means “ash tree” in English and is named after the plentiful ash trees in that city.  Las Cruces, New Mexico, comes from the Spanish word for “crosses”.

Many famous natural sites also have Spanish names. For example, the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico are named for the Catholic “sacrament”. El Capitan translating to “the captain” is the name of a peak in Texas and a rock formation in California. The famous island prison Alcatraz translates in Spanish to “pelican” because the island was once solely inhabited by pelicans.

Why do so many places in the United States have Spanish language names? As we will discuss in this article, Spanish place names came to be under a variety of circumstances:

  • Spanish Place Names with Spanish Colonial History
  • Spanish Place Names with a Post-Colonial Spanish History
  • Spanish Sounding Place Names Falsely Attributed to the Spanish Language

Spanish Place Names with Spanish Colonial History

 Spanish conquistadors first settled areas that are now the United States, along with much of South and Central America, in the 1500s. Most areas with Spanish names received them from Spanish speaking settlers who colonized the areas hundreds of years ago. You can still see these settlements today in towns such as St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest continually settled town in the United States; Ysleta, Texas, the oldest European settlement in Texas; or Santa Fe, New Mexico, which translates to “holy faith”.

Many areas of the modern day United States were owned by Spain before being transferred or annexed by the United States. The state of Florida was sold to the USA by Spain in 1819. You can still see the Spanish colonial history in cities with Spanish names such as Boca Raton, meaning Thieves Village, Cape Canaveral, translating to Cape of Canes, and Miramar meaning Sea View.

Texas was also once colonized by Spain and became part of Mexico in the Mexican War of Independence. Shortly after, Texas fought their own war to become an independent country, the República de Texas (Texas Republic) and later joined the United States.

We can still see the colonial history in names of cities such as San Antonio, named for the feast of St Anthony of Padua (San Antonio in Spanish) which fell on the day settlers camped near the San Antonio River, and later gave its name to the city. Another feast was responsible for the naming of the town Corpus Christi. The town Amarillo gets its name, meaning “yellow”, from the yellow wildflowers and yellow soil in the area.

In the Mexican-American war, a large part of the Mexican territory was annexed by the United States. This included parts of modern day Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Utah. As we mentioned earlier, some of these states have names with Spanish origins. They are also home to many cities and towns with Spanish names. Los Alamos, New Mexico is named for the poplar trees that grow in the area. La Paz County, Arizona, meaning “the peace” and La Plata County in Colorado meaning “silver”, to mention just a few.

Spanish Place Names with a Post-Colonial Spanish History

Many cities, landmarks and other places have been named in post-colonial times due to the influx and influence of Spanish speaking immigrants. Lake Buena Vista, Florida was named in 1969 after a place in California. A neighborhood in Queens, New York is called Corona, meaning it is the “crown” of Queens County. Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley, California is named after Hispanic-American activist Cesar Chavez. The community of Estrella, Arizona meaning “star”, and it’s neighboring community Montecito, meaning “little mountain” show the continued influence of the Spanish language on developments throughout the United States.

 Spanish Sounding Place Names Falsely Attributed to the Spanish Language

Some place names simply sound Spanish, but have no Spanish origin. Eldorado, Illinois, for example would translate to “The Golden” but the town name actually came from two English surnames Elder and Read being put together to form “Elder-Reado” and eventually “Eldorado”.

Some cities were given Spanish language names simply because the inhabitants wanted to translate the words into Spanish. Using direct translation Sierra Vista, Arizona means “mountain view”, but this is not proper form in Spanish. A better translation, if done by a professional, would be Miramonte or Mirasierra. The Texan town San Angelo was named after the town founder’s wife, Caroline Angela and originally called Santa Angela then later San Angela, an ungrammatical construction in the Spanish language. The town name eventually changed to the grammatically correct, but masculine, San Angelo.

As you can see, even official names can have errors in translation. This only emphasizes the need to leave translation projects up to the Spanish language experts. Professional translation services such as Spanish with Style guarantee the accuracy of translations, avoiding possible embarrassment or confusion due to miss-translated messages. Without a professional Spanish language translator it can be incredibly easy to make a mistake, particularly by attempting to translate a phrase directly, ignoring the nuanced differences between the languages and arriving at a result that does not make sense to a native speaker.